• Kyodo


Hanami Sekine took a step toward appearing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Sunday, when she led the Japanese runners at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, finishing third behind winner Meskerem Assefa of Ethiopia.

In her marathon debut, Sekine clocked 2 hours, 23 minutes, 7 seconds, while Assefa cut the tape at Nagoya Dome at 2:21:45 for a personal best ahead of Kenya’s Valary Jemeli, who was second in 2:22:48. By being one of the top three Japanese, Sekine booked a spot in next year’s marathon Grand Championship, Japan’s qualifying race for 2020.

After 25 km, Jemeli took the lead with Assefa and Sekine close behind, but the Kenyan fell behind Assefa around the 38-km mark and finished just over a minute back. Sekine maintained a steady pace in third for most of the race.

“I really wanted to keep up, but I was made aware that the best in the world are still a good deal better than me,” said Sekine, who competed in the 10,000 meters at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “But for now, I’ve at least qualified to take the next step.”

Reia Iwade (2:26:28) and Keiko Nogami (2:26:33) rounded out the top three Japanese runners, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. Nogami shaved 1:46 off the personal best she ran here in 2015.

Iwade and Nogami also earned spots in next year’s Grand Championship.

“Sekine is young, just 22 and running her first marathon. Midway through I was a little worried, but she managed to maintain her pace to the end and that makes me happy,” said Japan’s marathon project leader, Toshihiko Seko, a two-time Boston Marathon winner.

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